Actress, activist and author Alyssa Milano is hoping to inspire kids to find their own voice through her new middle grade series, Hope. Illustrated by The Simpsons illustrator Eric S. Keyes, the first book in the series, Project Middle School (Scholastic, October 2019), introduces readers to Hope Roberts, a spunky 11-year-old girl who seeks to create positive social change while surviving middle school at the same time. In our August issue of Growing Minds, we interviewed Milano about her new series.
How did Hope come to be? Where does she come from?
Part of the inspiration was my own kids — I see how good they are, and how curious about the world, and how they want to help people. So I wanted to write about a character who was motivated to help and do good. But I also really wanted to make sure Hope resonates with kids, that she’s someone they can relate to. Hope Roberts is bright and smart and funny and wants to change the world, but she also makes mistakes … she’s not perfect. She gets mad at her older sister and she has disagreements with her best friend, just like every sixth grader does. This idea came to me in late 2017–early 2018, partly because of the difficult times we’re living through. There’s a lot of intolerance and indifference in the world. I wanted to give kids a character they could relate to, someone who might inspire them to find their own voice and teach them how to use it.
Share some of your creative process. How did you, your co-author and the illustrator work together when creating the book?
Well, when we started out there was so much we wanted to pack into the first story. But when my co-author, Debbie Rigaud, and I began writing, we realized we had to scale back a bit and save some of our ideas for future books. We also realized humor had to be a big part of the story, and that’s one of our favorite things about the way Hope has developed. She’s very funny and she finds herself in these silly, relatable situations. Those were really fun to write about, and for Eric to illustrate. Working with Eric has been amazing. We make suggestions to him about which moments we want to highlight in each chapter, and then when he shows us his illustrations, we’re blown away by the feeling he brings out in these characters. He really captures their warmth and depth and brings it to the next level.
What would you like readers to be thinking about after they read the book?
This first book is really about Hope finding the courage to share her ideas, to find her voice and believe in herself. I hope that readers come away feeling inspired and energized about speaking up and speaking out.
Why write for the middle grade students? What attracts you to this audience?
Kids at this age level are like sponges, soaking up everything in the world around them. They are growing up and learning about the world around them — and discovering that they can have a voice in their communities. And that’s what I want Hope to do — to send them a message that they can make a difference the way that she does.
What would you like readers to be thinking about after they finish the book?
Well, kids are the future! They’re born into a world where they’re often taught their voices don’t count for anything, that the damage has already been done by the grown-ups. Pete’s whole mission was to teach everyone, young and old, that they have a voice, that they have power and authority and can harness that for the good of humanity. The earlier kids are introduced to this, the better! My greatest dream would be that this book is a kid’s first introduction to the power of organization and fighting for beliefs; that this book would somehow be a building block in creating a kid who would follow in Pete Seeger’s very esteemed footsteps.